Iowa Politics Roundup: Dueling Bus Tours Make Cases on Judicial Retention Print
Commentary/Politics - Iowa Politics
Written by Lynn Campbell   
Friday, 29 October 2010 13:16

Iowa’s November 2 vote November on whether to retain three Iowa Supreme Court justices who were part of the unanimous ruling legalizing same-sex marriages in Iowa has national implications, National Organization for Marriage President Brian Brown said in helping to kick off the statewide Judge Bus Tour urging a “no” vote on retention.

“The whole country is looking at you,” Brown said. “What kind of country are we? Are we a country in which seven judges can take the entire constitutional and common-law history of marriage and throw it aside and the people will not have a say, or are we a country where the people of Iowa are going to stand up and say, ‘Enough is enough.’ We just say ’no’ to activist judges.”

Brown and other key conservatives gathered October 26 outside the Iowa Capitol next to a special bus with “no” written on the faces of Iowa Supreme Court Justices Marsha Ternus, Michael Streit, and David Baker. The vote on judicial retention is about standing up for the Constitution and Iowa’s way of life, said U.S. Representative Steve King (R-Kiron), one of the authors of Iowa’s Defense of Marriage Act.

“We need to remove these three justices – Ternus, Streit and Baker. We need to vote no, no, and no,” King said. “Because it’s your right to do so. That’s your right. And don’t let anybody tell you that you don’t have that right. And don’t let anybody tell you that you don’t have good enough judgment to make that decision. And don’t let ’em try to tell you that somehow this upsets the system in such a way that we would have a scrambled Department of Justice. They have scrambled it, and you have the right to fire them. In fact, Iowa is an at-will state and these are at-will judges.”

Joining Brown and King were Republican National Committee member Kim Lehman and Texas U.S. Representative Louie Gohmert, a former judge. Former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania was not at the Des Moines event but planned to join the bus tour at later stops.

At a counter-rally held just up the steps of the Capitol a half-hour earlier, former Lieutenant Governor Art Neu, co-chair of Fair Courts for Us, said it would be devastating to public safety should Iowans vote “no” on 74 judges.

“What started out as targeting three Supreme Court justices has escalated into the single most dangerous threat to public safety and the function of courts in Iowa history,” Neu said. “Organizations sponsoring the statewide Judge Bus Tour are calling for Iowans to remove all 74 judges who are up for retention on November 2. ... The removal of judges across Iowa would shut down entire communities out of the courthouse and shut down our legal systems and deny Iowans their right to a speedy trial.”

Gene Meyer, commissioner of the Iowa Department of Public Safety, echoed those comments. “Removing more than 74 district-court judges has the potential to seriously impact the ability of law enforcement in this state to keep Iowans safe,” he said. “If a large number of judges leaves the bench at once, the amount of time it would take to find suitable replacements has serious consequences for public safety.”

But King maintained that the effort to encourage a “no” vote on judicial retention is focused only on the three Iowa Supreme Court justices, not on the other 71 judges across the state. “We’re not saying remove all 74 of them; we’re saying these three,” King said.

Former Attorney General Bonnie Campbell called the attacks on Iowa’s judicial system unprecedented. “Iowa, ahead of many states, understood that popular elections for judges lead to popular but not necessarily fair or impartial rulings,” she said.

The anti-retention bus tour rally at the Capitol was slightly larger than the one held by pro-retention advocates. The opponents had more than 60 supporters there, while supporters of the justices had about 50.

Film-Office Audit Identifies More than $25 Million in Improper Tax Credits

A special investigation of the Iowa Film Office and its film-, television-, and video-production promotion program identified nearly $25.6 million of tax-credit certificates that were improperly issued for 22 projects between May 2007 and September 2009, the state auditor’s office said this week.

After the release of the audit, Attorney General Tom Miller filed a lawsuit in Polk County District Court against the five principal individuals and four entities involved in producing or pursuing 15 movie projects, alleging that the defendants conspired to defraud the state out of film tax credits and seeking a minimum of $5.5 million in damages.

“This has been an exhaustive process, and we’re working hard to make sure that not one penny is spent on tax credits unnecessarily,” Miller said. “We will use the courts to challenge and recover any unjustified or ill-gotten state money. We’re also holding those accountable in criminal court, and we expect to pursue more criminal charges and seek justice.”

The tax-credit program was suspended on September 18, 2009, and Governor Chet Culver has indicated the program will not be reinstated. State Auditor David Vaudt nonetheless recommended improvements for the legislature to consider in the event this program is reinstated or a similar program is established.

He recommended improving definitions of qualified and unqualified expenditures, defining an Iowa-based business and resident, establishing specific documentation requirements, and providing adequate funding for administration of the program.

The report also includes recommendations appropriate for all tax-credit programs administered by state agencies.


Culver Kicks Off “Main Street Versus Wall Street” Tour

Culver this week contrasted his campaign approach with that of his opponent, former Governor Terry Branstad – who brought in some big-name national Republicans this week to boost his campaign.

“I’m fighting for the employees and the owner of Boomers. That’s who I’m fighting for every single day, those folks on Main Street that are working hard to keep our economy going forward,” Culver told several dozen supporters at Baby Boomers Cafe in Des Moines’ East Village on Monday. “And I don’t think it could be more perfect timing folks. Who’s coming in for Terry Branstad tomorrow? Mr. Wall Street himself – Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney made hundreds of millions of dollars on Wall Street.”

Culver later said in an interview: “This election isn’t about some presidential race in 2012. This election is about the people of Iowa today, tomorrow, and [in] the future. And he can bring in Haley Barbour and Mitt Romney and all these out-of-state big-corporate-interest types, and we’re going to just keep fighting for average, middle-class, hardworking families. It just couldn’t be a clearer choice.”

The governor said he hasn’t heard anything more about President Obama coming to Iowa to campaign for him, despite earlier saying that the president would be here before November 2. “Look, we’re going to win the race, and I think it’s likely that towards the end, there will be some folks coming; Biden’s coming in this week,” he said. “But look, I’m focused on getting every vote in this coffee shop.”

Culver also continued to criticize Branstad for “running and hiding” and taking a vacation in the final days of the campaign. “He has been off since Thursday; he’s not on the campaign trail again until tomorrow with Mitt Romney, his Wall Street buddy,” Culver said. “We’re going to be going to twice as many cities as the Branstad campaign in the closing days. That’s why we’re going to win this race.”

U.S. Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) predicted that the race between Culver and Branstad will be very close next week.

“I think the movement is there; I think the trend lines are that every day, Chet Culver’s going up. And every day, I think I see that Terry Branstad’s going down,” Harkin said. “I think this race next week when the votes are finally tallied is going to be very, very close.”

Romney Touts Branstad as Best for Job Creation and Smaller Government; Remains Silent About 2012

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney told a crowd of supporters Tuesday that Branstad is the best candidate for bringing small government and new jobs to Iowa.

“In this race you’ve got two people who’ve both been governor,” Romney said. “With this guy [Branstad], you’ve got someone who created jobs and kept government small during his time as governor, and that’s what we want.”

Romney was in town to lend a hand to fellow Republican Branstad in the race for governor, as well as a host of other Republican candidates including Mariannette Miller-Meeks, who is in a tight Second Congressional District race with U.S. Representative Dave Loebsack (D-Mount Vernon). The rally was held in a meeting room at the Hotel at Kirkwood Center on the campus of Kirkwood Community College.

Romney told an enthusiastic crowd of around 50 supporters that he sees big wins for the Republican cause this fall. “People who have led this country with liberal policies have shown that they don’t fundamentally understand what makes America America,” Romney said. “There is going to be a rejection of the policies of Obama, Pelosi, and of the local policies in this state.”

Romney criticized the federal stimulus package passed last year for protecting unions and government workers instead of creating jobs, which he contrasted to what Republicans intend to do. “Our party is the party of jobs and opportunity,” Romney said.

Following Romney’s speech, the other former Republican governor on the stage, Branstad, took to the podium with much the same message. He told the crowd that his goals are to bolster the economy and reduce the size of state government. He criticized Culver for saying he would “stay the course” on job creation and the economy in the state.

“We can’t afford to stay the course; it’s not sustainable, and we’re going in the wrong direction,” Branstad said.

Branstad repeated many of his campaign promises, saying that he intended to increase income for Iowans by 25 percent across all income brackets, to create 200,000 new jobs over the next five years, and to make the state more attractive to businesses by reducing commercial-property and corporate-income taxes.

“We must raise incomes, not property taxes and debt in this state,” Branstad said.

David Kochel, treasurer of Romney’s Free & Strong America Political Action committee, said Romney was focused on helping fellow Republican candidates in 2010 and would not be answering any questions about presidential aspirations. Kochel said by Election Day, Romney will have campaigned for Republican candidates in 25 states.

Governors Barbour, Jindal Warn That the Election Isn’t Over Yet

Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal warned Iowa Republicans Wednesday not to take for granted a victory for Branstad on November 2.

Barbour and Jindal, both potential 2012 Republican presidential candidates, urged a crowd of about 50 at Jasper County Republican Headquarters in Newton to talk to friends, neighbors, and co-workers and encourage them to vote for Branstad and other Republicans.

Barbour compared Branstad’s strong showing in the polls to a similar situation involving Jindal in 2003. After being ahead in the polls for months, Barbour said, Jindal barely lost and Louisiana suffered for four years because of it.

“I just beg you: Don’t let happen what happened the first time in Louisiana with Bobby,” Barbour said. “Don’t let us blow a lead and not put Terry Branstad back in the governor’s office. That would just be a catastrophe for this state.”

Barbour also told the crowd that the most powerful weapon in American politics is encouraging people to vote. “I know here in Iowa the polls look great. Terry’s been ahead from the get-go, but don’t let polls fool you,” he said. “At the end of the day, what matters is who actually votes.”

Jindal had a similar message for Iowa Republicans, saying it’s not time to rest or celebrate. “I know he’s ahead in the polls, and I know many papers are already saying this race is already done,” he said. “But the reality is this: elections aren’t won by polls, they’re not won by fundraising, they’re not won by political TV ads.”

“We’re in the final week of this campaign and you’ve heard from both Governor Barbour and from Governor Jindal that you can’t take anything for granted,” Branstad said. “I’ve always said the only poll that counts is the one taken on Election Day, and winning all those other polls doesn’t mean anything if we don’t win the one that counts.”

Branstad said it will help Iowans to hear from Barbour and Jindal about how common-sense, conservative policies have worked in their states and can work in Iowa, too. He compared the state’s current situation to that of the Maytag company, which shut down in Newton not long ago. He said Maytag got into trouble when it started going into debt. “That’s exactly the problem facing our country today, and that’s the direction we’re going as a state,” Branstad said.

Both Barbour and Jindal said that they weren’t in Iowa campaigning for 2012, although Jindal more soundly put to rest rumors of a potential run.

“I’ll be running for re-election in Louisiana, so I’ll be busy back home next year,” Jindal said.

Barbour, on the other hand, left his options open, saying he will consider a presidential run after November 2. “I said quite honestly I wasn’t going to give it any thought until after the election,” he said.

This weekly summary comes from IowaPolitics.com, an online government and politics news service. Reporter Andrew Duffelmeyer and other correspondents contributed to this report.


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